Whether you’re trying to get a promotion, launch a tech start-up or simply (or not so simply, as it turns out) find a job in your field, it would be nice to get sensible, practical career advice you could apply right now. Let’s be honest: There is no real secret to becoming a millionaire and quitting your job to travel the world might not be an option for you.
Nick Farkas, the man who booked Radiohead, Lana Del Rey and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to headline the 2016 edition of Osheaga – a three-day festival that can be described as the Canadian equivalent of Coachella – has all the sensible work-related advice you need. The concert promoter started his career hosting punk rock shows in church basements while working as a bike messenger on the side. He is now the vice-president of concerts and events at Evenko, one of the biggest promotion companies in Canada. Here are some lessons you can learn from the seasoned promoter:
1. Drive Your Wedge In
“I think the best advice I ever got in my life was at a panel at South by Southwest in the early ‘90s. I was watching Seth Hurwitz — the owner of DC’s legendary 9:30 club — talk. I was young at the time, trying to find my way in the business,” says Farkas, recalling a moment when someone in the crowd stood up to ask Hurwitz advice on making it in the competitive entertainment industry. “He said that what you have to do is find your niche, find something you know — a segment of the market that hasn’t been exploited, get in there, do a good job and then drive your wedge in and continue to pry it open.”
Farkas and his first business partner started as punk rock promoters, moved on to metal and then indie rock. “We kept opening the wedge more and more until we were doing every kind of music imaginable, and four festivals,” he says.
2. Build Your Credibility First And Then Get Ballsy
When Farkas and his team founded Osheaga 11 years ago, it was tough to convince mainstream artists to headline a new event. “It took a few years for [ agents and artists] to believe the event was credible. But all the work we put in on the production side and the fan and band experience paid off because by year four we had bands like Coldplay willing to play,” he says.
Getting Eminem to headline in 2011 was another huge turning point for the Montreal festival – it sold out for the first time. But before reaching these milestones, Farkas spent years building relationships with agents. “We had to do a lot of convincing.”
3. Be Flexible — But Most Of All, Be Critical
During its first two years of existence, the festival took place on Labor Day weekend. But after hearing friends and industry insiders alike suggest that Labor Day weekend might not be the best time to host the event, Farkas and his team changed gears: They moved the festival to another long weekend — one that coincides with a national holiday in Canada. As a result, the festival soared in popularity, attracting people from other provinces. “We had to literally convince ourselves we were 100 percent wrong,” he says. “I think that in order to be successful in a project like this, you really have to be super critical and evaluate [the state of things] and be willing to take criticism and turn it into something positive.”
4. Stop Trying To Steal The Thunder And Be A Team Player
Even as a VP, Farkas believes you should never feel bigger than other members of your team.
“If it was my festival and I was the one booking it, it wouldn’t be as successful as it is because I would be leaning more towards my taste exclusively,” he says of the talent booking process.
“And I think what made Osheaga such an interesting festival over the years is that you have a bunch of people fighting for the acts they want on the bill, and we’re all different ages and come from different backgrounds musically so you get a more eclectic, more balanced festival.”
5. Be Passionate (No Matter How Cheesy It Sounds)
“To survive and thrive [in business], you have to be passionate,” says the Osheaga co-founder, who turned a hobby into a successful career. When he first started booking shows during his college days, he did it to see the bands he liked perform. “If you’re doing it because you want to meet stars or you think it’s going to be glamorous or whatever, it’s not gonna work. Because you have to work incredibly long hours to establish yourself and get those relationships and prove yourself.”
6. Define Success On Your Own Terms
In January 2016, Evenko was ranked as the top promoter in Canada and the eighth most important promoter in North America by Pollstar, a trade publication covering the worldwide concert industry. Osheaga alone draws a crowd of around 150,000 people over three days. But despite the hard facts, Farkas doesn’t measure success in terms of money or status.
“I think that ultimately, success is being confident and happy in what you have managed to achieve. If you’re happy and you feel like what you’ve done is a success, then that’s successful,” he says.
“Success to me is more of a state of mind than anything else. Other people can think you’re successful, but a successful festival is a different thing than success in your own personal life. I think it’s about a state of mind and how you view yourself.”